The Three Phases of a Strong Crisis Management Plan

It’s not if, it’s when. While the timing of most crises (think breaches or emergency scenarios) can’t be anticipated, there’s work you can do before, during, and after a crisis to minimize any damage. In this line of business, vigilance and appropriate preparation is mandatory. 

While it would be nice to think your company is immune, it’s probably not so. Nearly every business will face its moment of crisis; whether your company is start-up or enterprise, chances are it will face a moment where its image will be at risk. This could come from external sources or from an unfortunate internal crisis. Every business needs to have anticipated any eventual situation and have a strategy set in place as part of their business continuity plan

Crisis events can be broken into three stages. Identifying each stage allows a crisis management team to appropriately handle expectations and awareness.

  • Before: No known issue currently exists. Your organization is doing its routine due diligence in maintaining awareness and preparation. A team is on call for any immediate needs.
  • During: The crisis protocol has been triggered, and management is active 24/7.
  • After: The crisis has passed and the team has ramped down. Additional resources may be monitoring the situation, and the team may be prepared for a second round of crisis scheduling.

Pre-Crisis Planning

  • The best way to prepare for any crisis is to plan for the unexpected. Identify the variables and unknowns and lay out contingency plans for as many possible iterations as is practical.
  • Train your team and partners, providing clear expectations. This will involve some fire drill-style training and perhaps identifying a situation room. Use all available tools to help create a realistic situation and monitor the actual turnover time.
  • Have the right tools and team ready and able to jump on any crisis with minimal notice.
  • One big focus of a crisis is prepping media plans and statements for the executive team. It’s equally important to prep the people who will be replying to questions and comments on social media.
  • Having a response team informed and on standby is good practice. The team will need to be ready for heavy moderation on all social channels and groups to keep chatter to a minimum.
  • Don’t wait for the crisis to blow up, look for it. Social listening is a must in crisis management. Start the crisis protocol as early as possible to help minimize the impact on the brand. Your social listening should be set to alert you to unusual spikes on certain content across all social platforms — not just the big three.

When a Crisis Arises

  • Initiate war room planning. Take the time to process the information at hand before making any decisions, rather than making snap judgments. In a crisis, with its many moving parts, it’s key to walk before you run. Take the time to connect with all involved to ensure you’re streamlined.
  • Communication is key — internally, with partners, and certainly with your audience. Make sure to have aligned tone and message across all platforms and languages. Quick-fire content moderation will now be required. Keep in mind the three E’s: empathy, engagement, and escalation.
  • The team will need to continue to monitor the situation for as long as it takes. A crisis may last days or weeks. Make sure to have your team ready, but allow time for them to rest. Weak teams increase the risk of mistakes.

The Aftermath

  • The crisis may be over, but you’re far from finished. The crisis will impact the image of your brand in some way, either negatively or positively, depending on how it was handled. Your reputation is everything. Plan for extra support for a few weeks after the crisis to manage the staggering noise.
  • It’s important to update your plan of activities following a crisis. You don’t want to appear insensitive to the public. An ad may no longer be relevant, comments may now appear inappropriate, and events may seem untimely.
  • Make sure to review and report on how the crisis unfolds, compile learnings, and recognize the people (including partners, reporters, and followers) who supported you during the crisis. A well-managed crisis may cause your audience to feel a closer bond to your brand, which in turn could generate loyalty (which is what we all strive for). 85% of consumers will be loyal to a business in crisis if it has a history of transparency.

To be successful during a time of crisis, it’s critical to understand the value of social listening, have alignment of key stakeholders, be transparent (internally and externally), develop learnings afterwards, and leverage the experience to grow. Prepare for each stage of the crisis — before, during, and after — and practice your implementation plan as much as is practical. Today’s planning will help your company weather tomorrow’s storm.

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